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In the midst of what has been a bracketed Apple week, first with the release of the iPad and then with the announcement of the new (and very compelling) iPhone OS, Dell launched a broad refresh of its corporate laptop line. I wrote about the last big refresh back in 2008. This refresh focuses on improved appearance, better graphics choices (likely in anticipation of IE9 and other graphics-intensive changes) and application improvements for instant on, management and Windows 7 migrations.
Let's talk about these new products and Dell's transition.
I recall an old Oldsmobile commercial when that division of GM worked to capture a younger audience by saying its cars weren't the same as what your father likely drove. That didn't work all that well; Oldsmobile is long gone. Dell is focusing on making changes and not on making fun of one's parents. Still the transition has been pronounced. Back in the '90s, Dell sold products where the word "attractive" applied only to the price and then, even rarely. We called these products bricks, boat anchors and even less favorable names. I know the one I was given while at Forrester stayed under my desk and was never even turned on. I used my own hardware, thank you very much.
Over the past decade, after Michael Dell came back and took a heightened personal interest in his products, he hired one of the best laptop guys on the planet, Alex Gruzen, out of HP and change was in the wind. The result has been a solid march toward products that were more reliable, vastly more attractive and that folks didn't feel the need to hide from others. Dell also has increasingly invested in systems management, adding to its appeal.
In short, if you grew to hate the Dell of the '90s, the Dell of this decade is vastly different and potentially more attractive.
Dell's New Laptop Lines:
E Series: These products get the impressive Intel Core i5 and i7 parts that can both dynamically shut down resources that aren't in use and overclock a single overworked core, allowing single-threaded applications to perform better. These processors were a sharp jump from their predecessors in terms of performance per watt, but most users likely will be perfectly happy with the i5, and with the i7 left for your few performance-based laptop users. The line which has 14.1-inch and 15.6-inch screens has optional Nvidia graphics, which with the advent of GPU-accelerated browsers starting with IE9, might become a requirement. That's a strong GPU mix for those who want to keep them more than two years. As you likely know 14.1-inch products are best for those who work while on the road and in planes, while 15.6-inch offerings are best for station-to-station users who primarily work off desktops.
Semi-Rugged ATG: This is still a relatively new class of products with many of the important advantages of a fully hardened PC at a fraction of the astronomical price. This meets military specification 810G for shock, vibration, temperature and altitude. This is a laptop with an attitude, showing nice lines and a very masculine design.
Dell On: Has been enhanced and is available in some of the E models. This service now more easily provides access to e-mail, calendar and contacts nearly instantly without the need to boot up. Since I typically just suspend my laptop, I haven't found this feature particularly useful, but for those who really need to push battery life, the feature has been handy.
Dell is a full-service corporate PC supplier and continues to have a full set of related services for deployment, management, volume customization and asset recovery. Historically when I've surveyed Dell sites, the most satisfied (and this is true of most vendors) are those that use the related vendors' services and tools for these functions. This appears to be largely due to the ease of problem resolution. I haven't done surveys on Dell's asset management, software distribution, patch management and security tools, but they are available, making Dell a one-stop-shop.
It has been a long time since Dell built products that many of us hid. Its new lines are attractive and appear to be well-configured for the future and priced competitively at volume. This likely explains why Dell has historically been on the short list for companies looking for new PCs.